bits from bob....

Characteristics of Effective Leaders

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

I am an observer of leaders. I am especially interested in spiritual leadership. Because much of my mission and ministry work involves training spiritual leaders for churches, I want to understand the characteristics and influence of effective spiritual leaders.

In my work in the church and in Christian higher education across more than 40 years, I have worked with a lot of church leaders. Some leaders are effective and others are not. Sometimes leaders one thinks would be effective are not, and those that appear to have less potential become the best leaders. Leadership, especially spiritual leadership, is intriguing and little understood.

My awareness of the challenges of spiritual leadership caused me to respond enthusiastically to leadership studies in my master's work, and I continued to read and write extensively about leadership in my doctoral studies. Over the past 25 years since beginning with my graduate studies I have not only observed leaders, I have tried to analyze leaders. I have thought about those leaders I can remember from my earliest experiences in the church. I continue to watch leaders so I can learn as much as I can about leadership, but my special interest is in spiritual leadership in the church.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Generational leaders have a significant influence on those of their own age; the influence of cross-generational leaders who influence people across several generations is usually harder to understand. I am especially intrigued by leaders who are both past and present leaders-those who exercise effective, cutting edge leadership across several decades. I like to try to identify upcoming leaders who will be both present and future leaders.

Because leadership is plastic, it is difficult to identify a hard and fast set of characteristics that guarantees effective leadership. There will be exceptions-some few will lead reasonably well without having all of the characteristics firmly in place. Nonetheless, across my years of work with church leaders-elders, deacons, teachers, and ministers, I have observed several factors which are almost always a part of the lives of vibrant, growing, effective spiritual leaders. I mention five of the most salient in this brief article.

Effective spiritual leaders are people who are "on the move"
Excellent leaders are active; they are early risers, hard workers, disciplined, motivated. I mention this item first because this characteristic is almost always present-very seldom missing. This is true of leadership in the secular world; it is also true in the spiritual realm. A recent e-book, What Successful People Do Before Breakfast, claims that the wise use of the early morning is a characteristic of almost all highly successful and highly accomplished people-time set aside for exercise, writing, prayer, reading, meditation, or important projects. "If something has to happen, make it happen first."
Leadership is earned with the price the discipline of hard work. Effective leadership is more often exercised by example than with words. Sometimes leadership roles are handed to entitled persons, but effective leadership requires more than being identified as a leader. Effective leaders are visible, constantly and consistently doing the job and paying their dues.

Effective spiritual leaders are creative
Effective leaders see the big picture and are able to develop effective strategies based on present realities and future possibilities. Such leaders have the ability to adjust, they are flexible; they can easily change. Effective leaders are committed to doing more than keeping house. They not only do what they are assigned to do, they are always thinking ahead and dreaming about future possibilities. They take on more responsibilities and do more than is expected of them. They are always thinking about what needs to be done in the future.
Another way to describe this characteristic is to say that they are innovative and entrepreneurial. They have the ability to think outside the box. When they hit a roadblock, they find a way to go around it.

Effective spiritual leaders are concerned about people
Spiritual leaders value and understand people. The New Testament description of spiritual leaders as shepherds reflects this concern. Leadership is intimately tied to follow-ship: good followers often become good leaders. Good followers understand humility and shared roles, and confident humility on the part of leader makes it easier for others to follow. Those who develop the people skills necessary to follow effectively can generally lead effectively. Effective leaders are accepting; they are not threatened by others. Such leaders know how to surround themselves with more capable people.

Effective spiritual leaders are effective communicators
A deep concern for people causes leaders to develop good communication skills, both oral and written. If they are not adept at communicating, they make their improvement a high priority in their leadership development. Effective leaders are articulate, able to speak well and write well. Effective leaders also communicate by manner of life and example.

Effective leaders are happy, fulfilled, and content
One can observe the happiness and joy present in the life of an effective leader. Leaders often attract followers because they have a contagious joy. Even while taking more and more responsibilities, their work is fulfilling and fun. Such leaders are contented and grateful. Effective spiritual leaders give God credit and express gratitude for the opportunity to serve others.

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Last updated July 16, 2012